“I started something; Typical me, typical me, typical me; And now I’m not too sure…” ~Johnny Marr & Morrissey (From: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish, by The Smiths)
Sure, I’d spent thirty or so years threatening to write an epic fantasy. Seemed like stuff kept getting in the way. You know: life… and stuff. I suppose a few decades of not starting something I’d been talking about since I was twelve eventually made me reticent about it. But with some of those close to me (read: my parents), I’d gained an ill-repute. First there was the writing thing, then came the guitar lessons I quit (I got blisters on my fingers!), and there was always the bedroom I wouldn’t clean, dishes I wouldn’t rinse, and so on. It also took me six years to work my way to a Bachelor’s degree. So yeah, I took some grief about my lack of resolve in finishing things.
Untypical Me: So from the time I left college until I left the business world in ’03, I worked hard to earn a can-do reputation. From product start-ups, to sales turnarounds, to remodeling projects, to building my own house—I became Mr. Stick-To-It-Till-Done. People looking for advice on how to tackle and accomplish difficult undertakings came to me. Me! The guy who never started writing, who switched his major four times, and who never cleaned his room. It took some time, but even I started to believe it about myself.
Then I started writing. At first it was a sideline to my carpentry gig—mostly for rainy days or between projects. I figured I’d knock my story out in, oh, say six to eight months. Yeah, right. That slid by, and I was still outlining. Woo-boy—Typical Me was back. Luckily, I kept my writing mostly secret. After all, I had a reputation to uphold.
The Blind Rush Forward:
“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter.” ~ Neil Gaiman
At some point I did just as Lord Gaiman describes in the quote: I self-deluded. It would just be a story for my niece and nephew (we’d long shared a love of fantasy stories). No one else had to see it. And it began to turn around for me. I made progress, and started to have fun, inventing names and researching Goths and Romans. As my story unfolded, I became fascinated by the revelations that seemed to come from nowhere. Characters took on personalities all their own, and the story expanded in startling and yet delightful ways. Nuances I’d never dreamed of including magically appeared. I’d been kissed by the muse, and I couldn’t get enough.
I no longer worried about showing it to others. I knew it was amateurish. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through the story. The only thing I can compare it to is getting hooked on reading a book. A big, epic, unexpectedly mind-blowing book. I couldn’t wait to pick it back up and see what would happen next. From early on I had a vague idea for how the story would end. But the things that kept me going were the ongoing surprises and unexpected twists. Ah, the life of a newbie pantser. It was a real rush!
What, Me Worry? Then one day, two to three years into my little side-project, I came to a realization. I had no idea about word counts or story arcs, but at about 200K I realized my story was getting longish. I also knew, with absolute certainty, I was only a third of the way through the main story. But I was also at a seminal moment for my two main characters. Their lives were irrevocably changed. “Hey, this could be the end of a book,” I thought. And I suddenly knew the general shape of the two remaining arcs of the overall story. “Huh. It’s a trilogy! Who knew?”
I know every writer’s journey varies. Many writers would’ve stopped there, revised, polished and submitted book one, knowing they could write the rest later. That thought worried me. It messed with my aforementioned self-delusion. I told myself, “What’s the rush? Just finish the story. No one is going to see it anyway… For now.”
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum:
“When people come to me and say, ‘I want to be a writer. What should I do?’, I say, ‘You have to write.’ And sometimes they say, ‘I’m already doing that. What else should I do?’ I say, ‘You have to finish things.’ Because that’s where you learn from; you learn by finishing things.” ~Neil Gaiman
I blew out my shoulder in October of ’08. Don’t worry, it’s much better now. But at the time it was a fairly debilitating injury. I couldn’t even type for a month, and carpentry was out of the question for the foreseeable future. I had recently finished the second section of my story, and the final section was underway. Almost five years in, I had already changed my focus from mostly carpentry to mostly writing, but the injury was the universe’s final nudge. Time to go all-out and finish.
But that’s not the funny thing I allude to in the above subtitle. Something else was going on. My gut was telling me I might have a good story. I’d long since abandoned the idea it was for my niece and nephew. Heck, they were teenagers in high school by this time, not remotely interested. Plus it had clearly become an adult story by then.
I still tried not to allow myself to think too far ahead, but a tiny flame had been kindled in my heart. I started to believe my story could matter. I’d learned so much about myself along the way. I’d laughed and cried with my characters. I started to think that maybe it could be meaningful to others, too. I didn’t allow this hope into the front seat as I drove for the finish line, but I knew it was back there, hidden in the trunk. I wanted it to be published. I wanted to connect with others through my story.
Trudging Wrought Road: About halfway through book three, I decided to map out all of the things that needed to happen to pull all of my many story-threads back together. The story had sprawled on me, so it was going to be quite a feat. In the final few months, I knew each day what needed to happen to get me to the next step. It was a really rudimentary attempt at plotting, but it got me from day to day, week to week.
Even in writing this today, I have to remind myself that no one had read yet. My wife and sister both read the first draft, but not until it was completely done. I somehow trudged through these ‘plot steps’ I’d mapped out in a workmanlike fashion, and I marvel at my former self now. These were/are emotional scenes for me—the culmination of years of toil and systematic setup. I still laughed and cried at the appropriate points, but it was all in a day’s work. On to the next step.
And then I reached the last plot point on my list. And it was emotionally wrought. But I knew it wasn’t quite over.
Can You Say Catharsis? It needed an epilogue. I’m not even sure I knew the term then. But I knew there was one more scene. And I knew this one would be the one that got me. It did.
I remember telling my wife on our morning walk that I thought I would finish this last scene that day. But I kept it nebulous. Neither of us made too big of a deal out of it. Like the whole journey to that point, it was too uncertain.
I wrote the epilogue scene through the blur of stinging eyes. And I made a prominent point of typing the actual words. It felt so damn good typing “The End.” I wept. Do I admit that a lot in this space? I suppose like Jude Law’s character Graham in The Holiday, “I’m a major weeper.”
I instant messaged my wife and told her, and admitted I was crying. She messaged back: “Now I’m crying. So proud of you!”
The Beauty of The End:
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~Lennon & McCartney (From The End, by The Beatles)
I’ve typed the words “The End” since, and aspire to many more times. But that first time was special. Neil’s right—there’s much to be learned from finishing. In many ways, typing “The End” is only the beginning. It’s the start of sharing what you’ve gained, and that’s where the real growth happens.
So in the end, typing “The End” was about more than the conclusion of my story. It wasn’t even about discipline, patience, or perseverance. I’ve learned much more about those things from the journey since.
Typing ‘the end’ was one of the most profoundly moving moments of my life. And I sometimes think it won’t be surpassed by getting an agent or a publishing deal. It was about knowing I’d found myself. It was about trusting my heart, and a willingness to reveal myself to seek human connection through story. I’ve found joy and healing, friendship and love through writing fiction. And that’s no small thing.
The Road Goes Ever On: Then, after my cathartic moment, I couldn’t resist. At the bottom of my manuscript’s word doc, I typed: (Stay tuned.). I knew my story would go on. And it will.
Now, tell me about “The End” of your story.